Hyde Park on Hudson

Less a character study, more a character quick-flick-through-the-summary-notes.

Released in 2012, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 24 Feb 2013 by Scott Morris
Hyde Park on Hudson image

Released in the U.K. around the same time as the vastly better publicised (and received, as it happens) Lincoln, Hyde Park on Hudson focuses on another President of the U.S.A, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR (Bill Murray) seemingly frequently grew tired of the Washington day-to-day, and would decamp to his childhood home, the titular Hyde Park on Hudson to run the affairs of state. Wanting to maintain a connection to his family while digging the country out of the Great Depression and seeing a looming possible entry to World War 2, he calls on distant cousin Daisy (Laura Linney) to keep him company.

It turns out that FDR is looking for a little more than companionship from Daisy, and it's not too long before they embark on an affair. FDR wasn't going to get anything as trivial as being crippled after a bout with polio get in the way of his philandering. Keeping the affair on the down-low is made somewhat easier by Franklin's wife Eleanor living in a separate house, so it's only FDR's aides and his mother they have to dodge.

However, while I'm sure the aforementioned appreciated not having their noses rubbed in it, this sort of behaviour was not uncommon for the Prez, which does rather re-cast Bill Clinton as a staunch traditionalist. There's not really a great deal of exploration made of this aspect of FDR's character, which is puzzling given that the story is nominally told from Daisy's point of view, and feels like a missed opportunity to give this film a bit of meat to its bones.

Instead a great deal of time is given to the other claw in this film's pincer movement, a visit to Hyde Park on Hudson by the Their Mostly Highly Royal Majesties the King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth First Of That Name (Olivia Colman) of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, Defenders of the Faith, Masters of Teras Kasi, Overmongers of Cheeses. This is another iteration of Stammerin' George, ala The King's Speech, even though his therapy sessions first took place over a decade before this film's set and by all accounts he was much less stutterific by this point. I should, I suppose, point out that this film is "inspired" by a tapestry of different accounts, and as such shouldn't be taken as much more than a slightly informed guess as to what actually went on.

The Royals are on tour trying to drum up some support and sympathy for the looming crisis of WWII, and FDR appears to be rather more open to the cause than the prevailing isolationist foreign policy of the time would otherwise indicate. FDR and George form a bond of friendship that serves to show the charm and charisma both men could bring to bear, and provides some of the stand-out scenes of the movie. Indeed, as a strange father-son dynamic develops between the President and the King, we learn about as much of George's reaction and attitudes to Edward's abdication as we did in The King's Speech. Which came as a surprise to me, given that my knowledge of this flick's content going into this was limited to a poster showing Bill Murray sporting a quite remarkable grin.

While there's not really any weak performances in the film, it's not unreasonable to say that Murray outshines them all. He provides a remarkably likeable and charismatic performance that helps keep you engaged with a film that otherwise shows some real structural weaknesses. Focus shifts around between Daisy, the Royals and FDR so much that it feels like it's telling three stories at the same time, and not doing a great job at any of them.

There's also something of an issue in that none of these stories, or portrays of relationships, are strong enough individually to warrant this level of examination in a film. Sure, the Royal visit in particular paves the way for the vital future cooperation, but the harsh reality is that this film shows a few dinner parties and discussions over cocktails. Given the weightier notions contemplated in Lincoln, which I can't help compare it to given the U.K. release windows, it feels rather slight.

Slight, but not unenjoyable. Bill Murray's headline turn makes for an enjoyable watch, albeit not an essential one. Should you stumble across it, it's a pleasant way to pass a few hours, however it's not worth making much of an effort to seek it out.

Roger Michell
Cast list:
Bill Murray (FDR)
Laura Linney (Daisy)
Samuel West (Bertie)
Olivia Colman (Elizabeth)
Elizabeth Marvel (Missy)
Olivia Williams (Eleanor)
Elizabeth Wilson (Mrs. Roosevelt)